Practice for Profit


While we add 48 percent more practitioners, we will have only 10 percent more pets. And... only 59 percent of pets ever see a veterinarian ...

Now that you have mastered the normal mathematical structure of the veterinary universe, it is time to peer into the future. Just as early discoverers of Haley's comet predicted the end of the world as inevitable, I suppose that I could predict the end of veterinary life as we visualize it now!

For, in fact, on the horizon is a not so heavenly piece of information published by the United States Department of Labor. The number of full-time equivalent practicing veterinarians in our beloved United States of America is expected to increase from the 2000 level of 37,494 to 55,478 by 2010. This is a whopping 48 percent increase and reflects the increase in new graduates and also takes into consideration those who retire or just expire somewhere between SO and AP in the exam room. So what? you say.

These 48 percent more veterinarians, or some 17,984, of them are all going to start practices in your county. Impossible, you say, that would be one every 11 feet, they would block traffic for miles. You are right! I must have missed a decimal point somewhere, but they have to go somewhere, don't they?

Demographic considerations

If they all spread out equally between the 50 states, that would be some 360 per state. Let's see now, that would be triple the number of practitioners in Alaska, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, North Dakota and Delaware. It would double the number of practitioners in Maine, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, South Dakota, Utah and Vermont. Fortunately, for California, Texas and Florida, it would only increase the number of practitioners by about 10 percent.

However, according to Snyder's Inverse Laws of Inequitable Distribution, nothing ever happens fairly. The colder states, which are losing population to the West and South would hardly be affected, while those of us in the warmer, lower 50 states with more sensible climates are going to get creamed.

Even with fair and even distribution, there will be one additional practitioner for every two existing now and with the warmer climate factor, the number of practitioners is going to double.

You might say ... So what? Our country is growing isn't it?

Are you sitting down? Here are the facts! While we add 48 percent more practitioners, we will have only 10 percent more pets. And ... lest you forget, only 59 percent of pets ever see a veterinarian for services. (Seeing a veterinarian while walking down the street does not count.)

Whoa! Forty-eight percent more veterinarians seeing only 6 percent more patients! Did you here me correctly? I don't know! Read it again. Now, let's do the math. There will be three practitioners where only two existed before.

One hundred percent plus 48 percent treating 100 percent plus 6 percent. 148/106 means 40 percent fewer patients per practitioner. Excuse me while I get sick!

OK! I'm back. What will that mean to you, in an established practice? One of the most enlightening things I do for my veterinary colleagues is determine whether it is feasible to open a new practice or to relocate to a certain address.

With the average practice netting about 33 percent, our prospective practice owner drawing 80 percent of her clients from those living less than three miles from his/her front door, would have his/her take-home pay reduced from ($415,406 x .33 =) $137,083 down to ($287,588 x .33 =) $94,904.

If one was able to reach out and snare clients from as far as a six-mile radius, take-home would decrease from ($693,960 x .33=) $229,006 to ($495,685 x .33=) $163,576.

Now, if, in your case, you are stuck in a three-mile picture today with nine other practitioners, your only hope of living well might be to merge practices and create a veterinary medical center for your town and that should increase your take-home from $94,904 to more than $120,000 based on shared overhead savings.

The sky is not falling, but cloudy weather is in the forecast. Can you change that? No! Can you change the way you practice? Certainly!

Can you prepare yourself by choosing a practice area using a feasibility study? Yep!

Can you change your style of practice to ensure greater client bonding and thereby prevent loss of existing clients to new practices opening in your area? Certainly!

Do you want to expand your existing practice in the face of this uncertainty? Only if you were deprived of oxygen as a fetus!

Do you need to look ahead and plan for the decade ahead now! Only if you intend to eat regularly as part of your retirement.

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